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A Man Whose Bar Was Shut By Covid After 20 Years Accuses Rishi Sunak Of “Misreading The Room” With Gordon Ramsay Video

A Man Whose Bar Was Shut By Covid After 20 Years Accuses Rishi Sunak Of “Misreading The Room” With Gordon Ramsay Video

Rishi Sunak has come under fire for his video chat with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay (HM Treasury/Flickr)

5 min read

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been accused of “completely misreading the room” after releasing a video of himself discussing the challenges facing hospitality with multimillionaire celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.

The video was released just hours after Owen Morgan, who runs a small chain of bars in South Wales and Bristol, announced he is closing the original branch of Bar 44 in Cowbridge.

“The real problems, the people with genuine lives and families and their wellbeing and livelihoods on the line, are they just misreading that?” Morgan told PoliticsHome. 

Morgan said the real issues have “been completely lost” amid discussion of the chef’s gameshow, describing the video as "quite a cynical move".

"Is it another instance of government just completely misreading the room again?," he added. 

Sunak spoke to Ramsay as part of a series of 'In Conversation' clips speaking to industry leaders and experts to inform his Plan For Jobs campaign, but his choice of Ramsay - who has 35 restaurants around the world and is one of the world’s richest chefs – has been widely criticised.In a tweet accompanying the video, Rishi Sunak said Ramsay would explain the challenges facing hospitality, as well as how he launched a TV show in lockdown. 

At the start of the pandemic, Ramsay made 500 staff redundant after a string of his restaurants were forced to temporarily close. 

Morgan called for the Chancellor to instead focus on “rates, rent and VAT”.

“It's imperative if they don't want to see huge bankruptcies and losses the VAT reduction is extended and continued," he explained. 

“Ideally, that would that would be across the alcohol as well, because how traditional pubs might operate without a reduction is beyond me. 

“The rates holiday needs to continue, as well, that huge, the rent moratorium too.”Having run Bar 44 for 20 years, Morgan said he “had huge emotional ties to it”, but with the lease up and “no end in sight” to restrictions, did not feel able to sign another one.

While restrictions are expected to be eased across the UK in coming months, senior ministers have cautioned that changes with be gradual, and have avoided committing to specific dates in case infections surge again. 

Morgan said Wales’ two-metre rule made it impossible to keep the branch open, which is on a first floor site, as that reduces their capacity by more than 60%.

“You still have to staff it the same, so there's almost no way it was economically viable,” he said. 

“Between the operational restrictions and then looking at the financial angle, it just wouldn't be possible. We'd be absolutely haemorrhaging money.”

Morgan said the industry is being used as “an easy scapegoat”, and criticised proposals to re-open hospitality venues with tight curfews and no alcohol sales as unviable.

Sunak's video with Ramsay was also criticised by Labour's shadow business minister Lucy Powell. 

“Words fail... I’ve nothing against Gordon Ramsay but he’s hardly been the voice of hospitality over last year," she tweeted. 

“From one ivory towers to another (with special iPad stand).”

The Labour frontbencher added: “Try speaking to those on the ground - I can give you a list?"

Thom Hetherington, who runs the Northern Restaurant & Bar hospitality exhibition in Manchester, called the video “tone-deaf, transparent brand-building”.

He tweeted that Ramsay “cannot speak for the many independent businesses that are hanging on by their fingernails, drowning in debt”.

Ahead of the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown, which is set to include how and when hospitality can re-open, the independent craft brewing association SIBA is calling for more consultation with the industry.

Its chief executive James Calder said if vaccination targets continue to be hit “there is no reason why pubs cannot re-open, in full, in May".

He added: “If pubs have to wait until July for a full return to normality, then many hundreds of brewery businesses will not survive without support. 

“2020 has already set craft brewing back 10 years, with a contraction in production of 34% compared to the wider economy of 9.9%.

"We need to see meaningful consultation with industry from those at the top of Government and a sensible, evidence based action plan.”Kate Nicholls from UK Hospitality said: “The support provided by the Chancellor over the past year has been instrumental in absorbing the worst of the damage and helping many more businesses survive. 

“It needs to be extended, though, or the government risks undoing the good work it has done. An extension to the VAT cut and the business rates holiday is a must at next month’s Budget.”

And Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “The uncertainty and speculation surrounding the reopening of pubs is hugely unsettling for a sector that is already on its knees. 

“We urge the government to commit to a roadmap which sees pubs reopen, indoors and out, alongside non-essential retail.” 

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